Crunch Time: A Tight Election Gets Tighter

Obama Romney Tight ElectionObama Romney Tight Election

A little over six months ago, I predicted on LA Progressive  that this election could come down to a split verdict, with Romney winning the popular vote and Obama the electoral vote. Well, here we are a couple of weeks from the election, and it looks increasingly possible (I don’t yet say likely). What is astonishing is how little has changed.

I argued back then that, unlike in 2000, when Bush lost the popular vote but won the electoral vote (with a little help from his friends on the Supreme Court), now the Electoral College advantage lies with the Democrat. That’s because an increasingly right-wing GOP has a highly concentrated regional base in the South, where Romney can expect huge majorities.

It’s still looking that way. After the first presidential debate, Romney’s winning performance pushed him out to his first lead in national polls. But looking at those results in light of state polls shows Romney’s advantage largely rests on his overwhelming support among Southern whites. Outside the South, Obama is ahead in the Northeast Rust Belt, and Far West, and leads narrowly in most swing states.

As of October 20, the Real Clear Politics average of national polls showed Obama up by just 0.2 percent; that was an improvement over the previous two weeks, when Romney was up after the first debate. And yet, looking at state-level polling, Obama continues to have a narrow advantage in Electoral College projections; if we allocate the ten toss-up states (131 electoral votes), Obama is projected to get 277 votes to Romney’s 261. It takes 270 to win, so there is no margin for error. If Obama loses Ohio or Wisconsin, for example, he’s done.

On the other hand, among the states currently counted for Romney are several (New Hampshire, Virginia, Colorado and Florida, totaling 55 electoral votes) where Obama led consistently (and narrowly) before the first debate. He has a good chance to get some or all of them back, even without advancing much in the national polls. Romney has to hold them all AND win Ohio to win the Electoral College.

Much hangs on the third and final debate. If Romney can convince enough swing voters in swing states, he’ll win both the popular and electoral votes. The same goes for Obama. But if the impasse persists, my conclusion from half a year ago still holds:

john peeler“Barring a major reshuffle, the cards will go against Romney and the Republicans. They would have been well advised to accede to Democratic demands, after the debacle of 2000, to abolish the Electoral College.”

Maybe this time they’ll listen to reason.

John Peeler

Posted: Monday, 22 October 2012

Published by the LA Progressive on October 22, 2012
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About John Peeler

John Peeler is a retired professor of political science at Bucknell University, specializing in Latin American and international affairs. His op-ed essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and USA Today, as well as many in local papers in central Pennsylvania where he lives. He has had letters published in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.